Atlanta Braves third baseman and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones retired from baseball in 2012 after 20 seasons and 468 home runs. Off the field, he's kept busy raising his four boys and hitting the golf course two to three days a week, satisfying his competitive urges by shaving five or six strokes off his handicap, and devoting as much time as he can to another life-long love: deer hunting. On top of co-hosting the Sportsman Channel's Major League Bowhunter, Jones is now preparing to move to the remote town of Carrizo Springs, Texas, where he and his family run the 10,000-acre Double Dime Ranch, so named because of Chipper and his father's chosen baseball number, 10.
While Larry Sr. and Lynne Jones have lived there for 14 years, this will be Chipper's first time devoting his energy to running the ranch year-round. "10,000 acres is not cheap to keep up," Chipper says. "I want it to pay for itself on a yearly basis, but it hasn't. That's the challenge, figuring out how to make it work." He'll move out there this August with his fiancée, Taylor, who will also serve as a cook ("she makes a really good spaghetti") and oversee day-to-day operations, as well as lead guests on the hunts.
Before the deer season starts in the fall, one of Jones's responsibilities includes ensuring that the deer population stays around a thousand, or eight per every ten acres. To that end, he has to cull about 250 to 300, mostly "does and inferior bucks," and then they donate the meat to local charities and homeless families in South Texas. "Do you know how many mouths we feed? You can fill up a freezer pretty quick. It's going to good use."
As for his guide responsibilities, he leads the guests, who stay from Thursday afternoon to Sunday, to their stand, processes the meat of whatever they harvest, and maybe takes charge of getting the kill mounted. Of course, reservations have skyrocketed since Double Dime announced Chipper was leading hunts, and baseball naturally comes up in conversation. "If they weren't asking me about myself and my career, 90 percent of them wouldn't even be there in the first place, so it's pretty flattering. It's one of my favorite places on the planet. I love meeting people and getting to know them, and sitting around a campfire, popping the top off a beer, and just having a good time."
Jones's guests in the past have included ballplayers such as former Braves teammates Brian McCann and Jonny Venters, Reds reliever Jonathan Broxton, country singers Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, and actor Kurt Russell. Somewhat surprisingly, Jones says there's never any competition between friends when it comes to the hunt.
"Hunting, for me, is more of a meditative act," he explains. "That's why I love being out there so much: I'm away from the spotlight, the microscope, my cellphone doesn't work half the time. It's a place for me to recharge my batteries. When you get competitive about hunting, that's when your respect for wildlife wanes. I get more out of the camaraderie, as opposed to seeing which one of the guys is going to kill the biggest deer." To that end, Jones prefers to hunt with a bow, not a gun. "I needed a new challenge. To be able to get a deer within 20, 30 yards of you, it's very difficult."
(Courtesy The Double Dime Ranch)
When it comes to comparing the experience and skills needed for hunting deer and hitting a baseball, Jones says there are many similarities. "You're waiting for that deer to make a mistake, like if you're standing at the plate, waiting for the pitcher to mess up," he says. "When you're 25, 30 feet up a tree, you're constantly going through your checklist, making sure everything's right and visualizing that deer crossing a certain path and getting drawn. Your mind is racing. It's kind of the same in baseball: 'What's the catcher calling? What's the pitcher thinking? What did he get me out with last time?' I'm a stickler for detail, for being prepared when the moment comes. So much of when I was playing baseball was mentally preparing for the strengths of the guy I was facing that night and trying to combat that in some way shape or form."
That said, there's one thing Jones doesn't know if he can combat: the South Texas heat. "It's 115, 120 degrees in the mid-summer, so that might be a good time to come back to Atlanta, spend some time with the boys, catch up with old friends, and take in a baseball game."
Three-day deer hunts start at $4000 per person, and include guides, lodging, and meals. Other hunts include turkey, dove, quail, hogs, and "varmint." DoubleDimeRanch.com